Ura­ni­um Wars: The Sci­en­tif­ic Rival­ry That Cre­at­ed The Nuclear Age

Amir D. Aczel
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

Despite the intim­i­dat­ing title, Ura­ni­um Wars is, above all, a sto­ry about peo­ple. The author intro­duces us to the key play­ers in the dis­cov­ery of ura­ni­um and the his­to­ry of nuclear arms, bring­ing us into the lives and strug­gles of the sci­en­tists, with brief inter­ludes to explain some of the sci­ence (in remark­ably easy and acces­si­ble lan­guage). He shows us Marie Curie (among many oth­ers) as a stu­dent search­ing for a Ph.D. the­sis and grad­u­at­ing with what was the start of Nobel­win­ning research. He details the rival­ry between Curie’s daugh­ter, Nobel Lau­re­ate Irene Joliot-Curie, and Lise Meit­ner, two women rac­ing to explain how a nucle­us splits at a time when very few women dom­i­nat­ed any sci­en­tif­ic discipline. 

The rela­tion­ships among the sci­en­tists bring his­to­ry to life and the sec­tions about the role of the Nazis in the arms race are grip­ping. Aczel ends with a look at the U.S.’s own ques­tion­able deci­sion to drop the bomb — the final prod­uct of the sci­en­tists’ research — onto Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki. Some of the most mem­o­rable chap­ters show Aczel, and the rest of the world, strug­gling to under­stand what the sci­en­tists knew and didn’t know about the intend­ed use of their efforts, and what their feel­ings were when it happened. 

End­notes, illus­tra­tions, insert, references.

Discussion Questions